Mansfield News-Mirror

School employee brings dolls to life

Frances Vasquez assembles and paints Reborn Dolls, life-like dolls.
Frances Vasquez assembles and paints Reborn Dolls, life-like dolls. Special to the News-Mirror

Frances Vasquez puts a different face on all of her art.

For the past two years, the Mansfield school district’s catering coordinator has been spending her evenings and weekends crafting on a different kind of canvas: small, life-like dolls.

Vasquez painstakingly paints Reborn Dolls, dolls that are made of vinyl and intended to look like real babies.

“This came about in 2012. My sister passed away from cancer in November, and then in December of that year I wanted to make something for my grandbaby,” Vasquez said. “I started looking for those dolls made out of cloth, but then my daughter told me about the Reborn babies.”

At first, the initial investment was a bit too much for Vasquez, as the cost for the kits ranges from $50 to $650. As time went on and she did her research, she was able to purchase a starter kit in March of 2013. She had the paints, the doll and then came the confidence to put brush to cheek.

“I couldn’t find any tutorials on this that didn’t cost money, so I just kept reading and reading and researching until one day I just tried,” said Vasquez, who credits years of birthday cake decoration for her steady hand. “I just tried and then I just got hooked.”

The Reborn Babies come in different shapes and sizes, and in a few instances, species. Buyers choose their baby’s expression, which can range from sleeping to playful or even crying. The dolls are shipped as a “blank canvas,” and the artists can paint every aspect on the doll. Skin, eye and hair color are up to the creativity of the artist.

But creating the dolls is a lengthy process after buyers have received their shipment.

“From start to finish, it takes a week, sometimes two. I will work on them at night, an hour here or an hour there, depending on my work schedule,” Vasquez said.

To get the authentic look of an infant, layer upon layer of paint and sealing chemicals are applied. Everything must be even and set before the next layer can be applied, adding time to an already lengthy process. And in something that could easily be a scene in a horror movie, throughout the process the vinyl dolls are placed in a small oven to let paint dry before moving on to the next layer.

“If someone were to walk into my work space and see a baby in an oven on the floor, I don’t know how they would react,” said Vasquez, who uses a clear NuWave oven.

In the two years since she started the hobby, Vasquez has completed more than 40 dolls, including a few baby monkeys as well as an adult doll of her husband at her granddaughter’s request.

After completing a new doll, Vasquez will seek out someone that could use a new friend. She has sold some for $40 to $100, but most she gives away.

“I will sell some of them, but I try to find people in need. The last one I gave away to a little girl whose grandmother had passed away. I see her little heart hurting and I wanted to give her something,” Vasquez said. “So I made her a doll. And I think she really liked it.”

Rianda Johnston, 7, received that special doll after she lost her grandmother. Rianda’s mother says the doll helped her daughter grieve.

“She was very excited about the doll. She couldn’t wait to open the box,” said Erica Johnston, Rianda’s mother. “My mother had been living with us since before my daughter was born, so she grew up with her grandmother in the house. She still thinks about her grandmother, but this doll has been helping her take her mind off of things.”

Vasquez wants to expand that charitable aspect. In her research, Vasquez has found that the dolls can be a great coping mechanism for children dealing with loss, as well as serve adults with developmental disabilities.

“I read people saying how much the dolls helped out their child, or their sibling or even their parents that have Alzheimer’s or dementia. I have a friend that has a daughter with Down syndrome, and after I made the doll, her mother tells me she carries that doll to Walmart, church, school. She takes it everywhere,” Vasquez said.

Giving dolls to those in need is “therapeutic,” Vasquez said.

“One of dreams is to one day donate a lot of (dolls) to a library or hospital and let people take them out. They can really be a great help to people in need,” Vasquez said.

In the meantime, Vasquez will continue to paint in her spare time and look for new avenues and new people in need of a tiny, life-like friend.